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French players impress at Australian Open


Melbourne : If the increase in the number of players from France at this year’s Australian Open – with an impressive list of 29 – is anything to go by, the country’s tennis is on the upswing.

Their presence is the largest and after Russia they have the most players in the third round of both the men’s and women’s singles.

The French contingent is conspicuous as they move in groups with their coaches and by their presence at the courtside when their players are playing.

They have an elaborate training regimen and the players are encouraged to go out and compete.

An emerging star is unseeded 22-year-old Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who cruised into the fourth round, defeating compatriot and another unseeded player Guillermo Garcia Lopez.

Tsonga, who created a big sensation in the first round by knocking out ninth seed Andy Murray of Britain, has entered his first grand slam quarter final overcoming his compatriot and eighth-seed Richard Gasquet over four sets, winning two tight tie-breakers on the way.

Tsonga gave signs of his stardom last year when he gave American Andy Roddick quite a scare in the first round before going down in four sets, playing the longest tie-breaker in Australian Open history, 20-18, in the process.

He also made the fourth round at Wimbledon and by the year-end finished in the top 50 for the first time.

It is a credit to French tennis that two Frenchmen had to battle it out in the fourth round.

Gasquet had beaten Russian Igo Andreev in four sets in the third round, but Marc Gicquel, who has upset 26th seed Stalnislas Wawrinka, lost in the third round to Russian Nikalay Davydenko.

French no.28 seed Gilles Simon, who earlier in the tournament demolished former Australian Open runner-up Rainer Schuttler in a convincing straight sets win, gave world number two Spaniard Rafael Nadal a fright in the third round before going down 5-7, 2-6, 3-6.

Number 23 seed Paul-Henri Mathieu made it to the fourth round outplaying Stephan Koubek of Austria – the conqueror of Spanish 16th seed and former French Open champion Carlos Moya in the first round.

Mathieu, however, had to pull out of his fourth round match against second-seed Rafael Nadal after losing the first set and trailing 0-3 in the second.

In the women’s draw things are not quite so rosy, but this is largely due to the fact that many top French women came into contact with players they probably would have preferred to avoid until further on in the tournament.

The French challenge might have ended in the women’s singles event with 2006 Australian Open Champion Amelie Mauresmo, Virginie Razzano and Aravane Rezai all losing in the third round but not before putting an impressive show.

Camille Pin gave Venus Williams a run for her money in the second round, breaking the service of the American powerhouse six times during the match. Pin might also be remembered for her impressive performance against Maria Sharapova in the first round of the Australian Open last year where she took the eventual runner up to 9-7 in the third set.

Likewise, 17-year-old Alize Cornet fought hard against world number nine Daniela Hantuchova in their second round match, managing to break her opponent five times.

Aravane Rezai went out in the third round but not before battling out a three-setter against Su Wei-hsieh of Chinese-Taipei.